PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers.
At War on the Rocks, PAXsims associate editor Ellie Bartels discusses how to incorporate wargaming into a cycle of research to explore future challenges:
What will the future wars look like? Fiction offers a range of answers — some contradictory. Is the priority urban security as depicted in the dystopian sci-fi world of Judge Dredd, or warfare in space shown in the sci-fi series The Expanse? Will advances in autonomy bring robot overlords like the Terminator or help-mates like Tony Stark’s Jarvis? Figuring out what the future may look like — and what concepts and technology we should invest in now to be prepared — is hard. To do it well we need to consider how America might take advantage of different futures. To this end former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work and Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff challenged the wargaming community to build a cycle of research to help understand what these paths might be.
But what is the cycle of research? Put simply it’s a process for using multiple tools with different strengths and weaknesses to examine the same problem from many angles, which a range of gamedesigners recommend. Like any other method, games have limitations: They produce a specific type of knowledge that is helpful in answering some questions, but not others. Games cannot be expected to provide a credible prediction of the performance of a new weapon or detailed understanding of the cost of acquiring a platform. However, by using gaming in conjunction with modeling and exercises different types of evidence can be gathered that should yield stronger results.
But what should the cycle look like if it is going to help us understand the future of conflict? Based on my practice as a national security game designer, I’ve found the following five steps can help guide effective follow-on analysis….
On October 9-10, Foreign Policy magazine, in partnership with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Harvard University’s Belfer Center, held their latest PeaceGame in Brussels. The topic this time was the conflict in Libya:
[The PeaceGame] brings together leading minds in national security policy, international affairs, academia, business, and media to “game out” how we can achieve peace, using as much creativity and seriousness as is devoted to war games. In so doing, the PeaceGame seeks to redefine how we think about conflict resolution and the possibility of peace. Bringing the series to Europe for the first time, the 8th edition of the PeaceGame focused on identifying practical solutions to the crisis in Libya – a matter that is of great mutual interest to both Europe and the MENA region. Participants in this PeaceGame explored two scenarios. The first scenario took on implementation of the new Libya Action Plan and the associated internal political and security challenges. The second turned to the broader regional security and humanitarian risks. Within the bounds of their roles, participants sought opportunities for positive change, as well as strategies for mitigating risk and de-escalation. The event was conducted under Chatham House Rule to allow participants to speak with maximum candor and creativity.
According to the Marine Corps Times, the Marine Corps Commandant wants a sophisticated, virtual reality “holodeck” to enable fast, sophisticated digital wargaming.
In the future, Marine commanders will be able to conduct large-scale exercises in a holodeck straight out of “Star Trek, The Next Generation,” the Corps’ top general said on Wednesday.
Right now, the Marine Corps uses simulations to train individuals, such as pilots or vehicle drivers, said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller.
“What I’m looking for is a simulation where a battalion or squadron commander or a regimental or a group commander or a division, wing or MEF [Marine Expeditionary Force] or a corps commander can go in and not have to put thousands of people on the battlespace and in the air and actually get them to do a repetition,” Neller said. “That is going to take some time.”
Simulation capabilities would allow commanders to run scenarios against future threats to gauge what equipment and tactics are most needed to succeed.
Corps officials are looking at what resources would be necessary to have a virtual wargaming facility at Quantico for Marine Corps University students to hold such exercises, Neller said.Neller spoke at the Marine Corps League’s annual Modern Day Marine expo in Quantico, Virginia, where officials said on Tuesday that the Corps plans to increase the number of virtual wargames it holds annually from 11 to 20 over the next three to five years. Those plans could involve building a new center to house the simulation technology.
<p>“In a perfect world, it would be like Jean-Luc Picard in ‘Star Trek,’” Neller said. “I’d walk into the holodeck and I’d go, ’Computer, Battle of Waterloo, 1812, Prussian army, I am in command, simulation — go.’ That’ll be here one day. You and I probably won’t see it. That’s what we need. We need the reps because we can’t afford to make a mistake in the fight.”
Of course, the technology would be remarkable (and probably expensive, slow to adapt, and rapidly dated). An important first step, however, would to promote among junior and senior officers a better understanding of what wargaming can and cannot do, and to emphasize genuinely adaptive and agile human-in-the-loop adversaries with a mandate to challenge and win.
The Wall Street Journal warned last month that “After Multiple Invasions, the U.S. Army Is Getting Tired of Liberating Atropia.”
“Candidly,” says Lt. Col. Joe Buccino of the 82nd Airborne Division, a veteran of multiple Atropia actions, “having liberated that place four times in 15 months, it is about time we let the Atropians provide security for themselves.”
Atropia’s problem, it seems, is reality. It keeps interfering with an elaborately constructed military-training scenario.
The U.S. Army’s training command in 2012 developed a rich back story for various ersatz countries in its war games. The fictional country of Atropia, according to the playbook, is a pro-western dictatorship. The Army ordered its training centers adopt the scenario.
Soldiers, like Col. Buccino, soon tired of rerunning the same old script. Bigger problems with Atropia arose when some European U.S. allies balked at the idea of propping up faux dictators—even if the blood on their hands was only stage paint.
The U.S., its NATO allies, Russia and other militaries around the world use fictional scenarios to make their military drills more sophisticated. They require soldiers to understand the political environment and motivations of the people they are trying to protect, and defeat.
In Atropia, the problem was maps. The fictional country exists so that Western allies can learn to cooperate. But imaginary national boundaries superimposed onto actual geography stirred friction.
Atropia’s borders roughly coincide with Azerbaijan. Neighboring Limaria, a made-up country, coincides with Armenia. The fake country of Kemalia is roughly equivalent to Turkey. In 2014, Turkey’s top general wrote to the head of U.S. European Command complaining that a historically Turkish town was inside the boundary of Limaria, not Kemalia.
“They weren’t fooled by the fake names,” says a U.S. official. “It caused a diplomatic kerfuffle.”
Turkish officials did not comment on the episode.
Late last month, The Strategy Bridge featured an excellent piece entitled “Wei Qi or Won’t Xi: The Siren Call of Chinese Strategic Culture,” by Lauren Dickey. In it she warns about the dagers of treating Chinese thought as more exotic than it actually is.
To believe, however, that there is a uniqueness to how Chinese strategy knits together ways and means in the pursuit of political ends risks over-complicating the study of Chinese strategic behavior. Indeed, to endeavor to interpret not only how Chinese traditions—such as Sun Tzu’s fortune cookie stratagems—guide decision-making but to further ascertain how individuals at the apex of the Chinese central government are applying such guidance is a formidable, subjective task for which even the most adept Sinologist or strategist is likely under-qualified. Rather than assuming culture alone drives strategic behavior, such studies should be conducted alongside rigorous examinations of the other elements of statecraft.
I was particularly pleased to see her criticize simplistic efforts to link culture and strategic thought through the supposed exemplars of popular national games—something I warned about in PAXsims a few months ago.
Finally, as masters at the game of Go (weiqi), Chinese strategists are purportedly engaged in a protracted war, maximizing their own advantages while considering the long-term outcomes of strategic decisions. This chess-like game traces back to the literati, generals, and statesman from the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD); its objective is, simply, to control territory on the game board through the strategic placement of black or white stones. The successful Go player will engage in moves, posturing, and tests of the opponent’s resolve. As the game continues and the board becomes more layered with pieces, players must simultaneously defend against the adversary on multiple fronts. In other words, the game of Go transforms into a “competition between two nations over multiple interest areas.” To assume that Chinese defense planners were raised playing this strategic board game, and that such formative experiences continue to shape their thinking today, is a precarious assumption at best. Even if true, does an avid Go player—or in a Western context, a diehard Risk or Settlers of Catan gamer—have the operational knowledge or qualifications to translate strategy at the conceptual level of board games into national or military strategy? The impact of such strategic games upon the individual strategist is undoubtedly highly subjective. Thus, if anything is to be garnered from the Chinese tradition of Go and similar games in the West, it should be that the formulation and implementation of strategy and gains of each player are dependent upon the choices of the opponent. Whether one is playing Go, Risk, or Catan, strategic success is created through tactics of deception, coercion, and compellence—concepts which transcend cultural traditions.
In New Statesman, Julia Rampen examines “How an obscure board game led to Labour’s gamification of power.”
[Shadow chancellor John] McDonnell told the Labour party conference on Tuesday that his economic team would be playing war games to prepare for government, with the help of an academic called Richard Barbrook. Internet sleuths soon tracked down the site Barbrook helped set up, Class Wargames. The site’s main attraction is the video’s subject, Game of War, which was reconstructed ten years ago by group of artists, software developers and political activists from an original developed by a left-wing Marxist theorist, Guy Debord.
Barbrook himself also hints that the Game of War shouldn’t be taken entirely seriously. “That’s an art project we did,” he tells me of the whole Class Wargames site. A political scientist, Barbrook has introduced gamification into the courses he has taught, and it seems like a natural extension to apply similar theories to his work with the Labour party. As well as co-ordinating Labour’s digital manifesto, he was involved in the creation of Corbyn Run, an online game launched during the 2017 general election. In it, the player, using an avatar of Jeremy Corbyn, shakes down bankers in order to collect money for the budget.
Barbrook was at the Labour party conference in part to launch Games for the Many, a pro-Corbyn games website. Launches include an improved version of Corbyn Run – “even Jeremy’s playing it, he thought it was hilarious” – and new works in the pipeline, including the working title of “Tinder for Canvassers”, which Barbrook says was coined by McDonnell himself.
The war games planned for the shadow economics team will not be quite as edgy, with participants seated round a table and asked to make decisions in a variety of situations, which have consequences. Experts will be invited to attend, such as former Bank of England officials. “We’d ideally have the whole shadow cabinet playing,” says Barbrook.
In a forthcoming article in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Miron Lakomy examines “Jihadi Propaganda in the World of Electronic Entertainment.”
This paper argues that video games have become a valid and increasingly significant means of jihadist digital propaganda. “Gaming jihad” has recently shown interesting alterations, mostly due to actions undertaken by the so called Islamic State and its cyber-partisans, which have discovered new ways of using this flexible and immersive medium. Similar to more conventional forms of its online propaganda, which have been imitated by other Islamist terrorist groups for years, the “Caliphate’s” exploitation of electronic entertainment software may be a forerunner for the increased interest of other VEOs in this medium.
At The Forward, Michael Peck looks at the history of Israel through wargames. UPDATE: Ooops, I hadn’t noticed the date on this (2013). We’ll leave it here anyway.
Amid the heighten profile of white supremicists, neoNazis, and the “alt-Right” in the United Stated, killing simulating Nazis in videogames has apparently become controversial in some quarters. However, Bethesda—publishers of the forthcoming first person shooter game Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus—have made it clear where they stand.
PC Gamer takes up the story:
To its credit, Bethesda isn’t trying to soften or backpedal on the message. In fact, Pete Hines, the studio’s vice president of marketing and PR, is doubling down on it. “Wolfenstein has been a decidedly anti-Nazi series since the first release more than 20 years ago. We aren’t going to shy away from what the game is about,” he told GamesIndustry. “We don’t feel it’s a reach for us to say Nazis are bad and un-American, and we’re not worried about being on the right side of history here.”
“[In the game] freeing America is the first step to freeing the world. So the idea of #NoMoreNazis in America is, in fact, what the entire game (and franchise) is about. Our campaign leans into that sentiment, and it unfortunately happens to highlight current events in the real world.”
He clarified that Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus wasn’t developed as a commentary on the current political climate in the US, echoing comments made in August by developer Machinegames. He called it a “pure coincidence” that it’s coming out at a time when Nazis are marching in American streets, but added that it’s “disturbing” that some people find its out-loud anti-Nazi stance to be controversial.
“This is what our game is about. It’s what this franchise has always been about. We aren’t afraid to embrace what BJ stands for and what Wolfenstein represents,” Hines said. “When it comes to Nazis, you can put us down in the ‘against’ column.”
In August, Jeremy Antley wrote at Real Life about the challenge of modelling global war terrorism and counterterrorism in a boardgame, through the lens of Labyrinth (GMT Games 2010) and its post-Arab Spring update, Labyrinth: The Awakening.
Perhaps most telling is the new card for Jihadi John. It resembles the Jihadist Videos card from the original card set, in that each depicts jihadists staring into the camera, suggesting an intention of using the internet to spread propaganda. But while the Jihadist Videos card is a jihadist event and has imagery, text, and game effect that suggests the videos in question are meant for a predominantly non-Western, Muslim audience, the Jihadi John card — a neutral card — suggests something different. No longer an anonymous/ubiquitous extremist, Jihadi John is depicted as a celebrity, in every grotesque meaning of the word, whose decapitations are tailor-made spectacles for Western audiences.
It is as if the West cannot help but be captivated by the appearance of Jihadi John, even as it finds his actions abhorrent. He cannot be othered, even if his purpose is to clearly demarcate one culture from another, because his YouTube presence calls into question what it means to be other in the first place. His perfect English, his background and upbringing in the birthplace of the modern liberal order, appears to contrast with his avowed beliefs and demonstrates the relative failure of Western modernity to shape and produce its ideal citizens.
Here the streamlined history and simplified ideological reading of the conflict serves only to highlight the murkiness of self-reflection prompted by the desire for verisimilitude. Seeking understanding of Jihadi John in the form of a Labyrinth event card reveals not only the limits of the game’s design but also the limits of board games as a whole as technologies of representation. Successfully addressing the joint issues of playability and verisimilitude makes ideological indoctrination seamlessly pleasurable, but not all subjects — such as the use of technology as depicted in Labyrinth: The Awakening — can transition into simplified ideological forms. When this tension between playability and understanding becomes apparent, as it does with the Jihadi John event card, it upsets the pleasure of play and muddies the otherwise clear view of history the game tries to let players experience.
Back in July, Russia Today did a review of Putin Strikes (One Small Step, 2016). The review was up to their usual incisive journalistic standards.
Want to understand how game theory can help explain the emergence of social trust? The Evolution of Trust is a very cool video/game/multimedia presentation by Nicky Case that should help.
The Irish comedy group Foil Arms and Hog consider what happens when an Englishman plays RISK.